By: Kelly-Ann Prinsloo – writer
What is a vulnerable community and how does SAESI 2015 aim to make these communities more resilient?
Melvin Ramlall, vice-president of the Southern African Emergency Services Institute (SAESI) said, “Psychological resilience may be defined as an individual's ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity.” In South Africa, especially among our more vulnerable communities, being able to adapt to stress and adversity is not only important – it is a necessity. So, what is a resilient community? And how can you, as members of the emergency services management (EMS) industry, help the communities around you become more resilient?
In its broadest sense, social vulnerability is one dimension of vulnerability to multiple stressors and shocks, including abuse, social exclusion and natural hazards. Social vulnerability refers to the inability of people, organisations, and societies to withstand adverse impacts from multiple stressors to which they are exposed. These impacts are due in part to characteristics inherent in social interactions, institutions, and systems of cultural values.
Moshema Mosia, head of disaster and emergency management services for Ekurhuleni, whose talk will focus on international standardisation in security and resilience, said, “Developing countries are most vulnerable to major incidents and disasters. Participation of men and women from across the globe is required in undertaking this work.”
South Africa, a developing country that is home to almost 60 million people, is full of people who live in vulnerable communities who, whether due to circumstances or lack of education or resources, are unable to overcome the risks and hazards they face on a daily basis. As members of the emergency services, it is your duty to help those people learn to help themselves.
That is what attending SAESI 2015 offers you: a chance to learn to effectively help those who are unable to help themselves.
What is a vulnerable community?
Ramlall said, “A vulnerable community in the context of emergency services are those groups of people situated within locations and areas prone to or identified as danger zones if and when major incidents or disasters occur.” This means areas that are susceptible to flooding, or fires, or where crime levels are unacceptably high.
There are many factors which determine a person’s level of vulnerability, including physical, economic, social and political factors. These factors also determine the extent of their capacity to resist, cope with and recover from hazards. Poverty is a major contributor to vulnerability, especially in South Africa where almost half our population lives below the breadline. Poor people are more likely to live and work in areas exposed to potential hazards, while they are less likely to have the resources to cope when a disaster strikes.
According to Ofentse Masibi, former SAESI president and divisional head of disaster and emergency management services at the City of Ekurhuleni, a vulnerable community is an opposite of the resilient community. “It is a community that has an intrinsic weakness to recover from any hazardous incident (e.g. fire) on its own.”
Riaan Janse van Vuuren, – Director, treasurer and chairperson of the SAESI Administration working group and assistant chief of municipal emergency services for Sol Plaatje Municipality, added that a resilient community will not only know what the hazards and risks are that directly impact them, they will also know ‘how to’ recover from the impact of such risks with the resources that are available to them. “There is no value in giving a fish to someone without teaching him how to fish for himself.”
A vulnerable community therefore is one that does not understand the risks and hazards are faces nor does it have the capacity to overcome them.
So, how does aim to take these vulnerable communities, be they informal settlements, hospitals, schools or prisons, and make them resilient?
SAESI 2015 makes vulnerable communities resilient
When asked how the SAESI 2015 conference will help South Africa’s emergency services industry understand vulnerable communities and how to make them resilient, Ramlall had much to say.
“I think the question should read: ‘How will the SAESI 2015 conference help to identify the communities’ vulnerabilities and how to make them resilient?’ I say this because emergency services in the country ordinarily are responsive in their function and deal with what they find on arrival. They generally know response areas and what to expect when they get there.”
But the concept of ‘building resilient communities’ suggests pro-active measures. The measures, Ramlall added, might not be within the full mandate of the emergency services, but more on the persons having fiduciary obligations and jurisdiction within the local, provincial and national context.
“The selection of the speakers identified by SAESI will provide examples of adversity that affected communities elsewhere; information will be shared on the challenges and solutions which emanated during and after these events, which will allow us here at home to better understand and prepare going forward.”
Those speakers include:
- Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, whose keynote address will focus on the multiple facets of disaster response;
- Stuart Ellis, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), whose keynote address will synthesise Australian learnings across resilience, incident management and relief/recovery;
- Paul Motsepe, from the West Rand District Municipality, whose address will focus on public information, education and relations (PIER), its principles and values. PIER recognises the importance of people’s ability to act together to influence the social and environmental issues that affect them;
- Schalk Willem Lubbe, chief operations officer of Collabrisk, whose talk will focus on the empowerment of vulnerable communities by identifying the hazards that affect them in their communities and understanding how to assist them in identifying and minimising or eliminating those risks; and
- Moshema Mosia, who is the City of Ekurhuleni’s head of Disaster and Emergency Management Services. His address will focus on international standardisation in security and resilience.
Janse van Vuuren added that building a resilient community means given that community the resources it needs to withstand any disaster. “This is done by education, training, risk identification by taking historical knowledge into account, resourcing, continued evaluation and having the community involved,” he said. “Think of it this way: you do not allow an insurance broker to decide for you what you need to insure and what not to insure! In the same way we cannot built resilience into a community without having the community involved throughout the entire process.”
Masibi added that building a resilient community means that one is building a community that will be able to recover on its own without the external assistance. A practical example of building the resilient is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) initiative and similar interventions that are focused on South Africa’s informal settlements, which work to increase the robustness of those community.
When asked how the SAESI 2015 conference will help the emergency services industry understand vulnerable communities and how to make them resilient, Janse van Vuuren said, “Many emergency services still focus on only one of the elements. They either focus all their attention on training without taking the historical data, hazards and risks into account, or they focus so heavily on risk assessments that they never get to the actual implementation of risk reduction programs and -projects.
The 2015 SAESI Conference is structured in such a way that the three identified pillars (education, risk management and societal security) will be discussed in depth and lay a solid foundation that the emergency services can build upon.